Kwame Brown was cooked before he even had a chance. While the No. 1 pick of the 2001 NBA Draft can be blamed for a lot of missteps on his road to becoming one of the most notorious draft busts of all-time, the biggest (and most overlooked) factor in Kwame’s stunted NBA growth was that the expectations for him changed in between the night he was drafted and the night his rookie season began.
The problem? Michael Jordan the front-office exec decided to come back to the League as MJ the player.
When Jordan drafted Kwame to the Wizards, he was adding a teenage project to a young rebuilding squad. Pressure and expectations were low, as it was understood that the team and its high school-to-pros rookie needed time to develop. And the Wizards (plus the public) were willing to be patient. But then Jordan decided to play, and suddenly the Wizards had to become a team that would challenge for a playoff spot. The idea of Jordan playing for a Lottery team was ridiculous.
So instead of being brought along slowly, Kwame in particular had to produce instant results. His leash got shorter, his mistakes became bigger. As chronicled in the book When Nothing Else Matters about Jordan’s comeback, MJ went from from being a nurturing mentor for Kwame to a hard-ass taskmaster. Once Jordan traded the suit for a jersey, he didn’t have the time or patience for Kwame to play like a high schooler.
Derrick Favors isn’t in danger of being the next Kwame Brown, but it’s looking like the No. 3 pick of the 2010 Draft will finish his rookie season closer to Hasheem Thabeet-level production than Blake Griffin numbers.
Why? Because the New Jersey Nets are trying to win. Head coach Avery Johnson was brought in to rebuild a team that won just 12 games last year, but Avery is accustomed to winning, and through the early stages of New Jersey’s schedule, he’s showing signs of a coach who has put the youth movement on the backburner for more immediate results. Favors is playing 20 minutes a night, second-year wing Terrence Williams is playing 24 mpg, and rookie first-round pick Damion James has logged less than eight minutes per game.
Over the last three games, seventh-year veteran Kris Humphries has been starting at power forward, which is keeping Favors’ playing time down. Last night against the Clippers, Favors played just 17 minutes (6 pts, 4 rebs), while Humphries posted a double-double with 13 points and 12 boards.
It’s tough to blame Avery for going with the lineup that will win games, but Favors also needs to get more time on the court before he gets lost in the shuffle. Humphries is making himself invaluable by doing “glue guy” things like rebounding, setting screens, running the floor hard and playing D, and is a solid enforcer for franchise center Brook Lopez. But that’s what New Jersey drafted Favors to be. The 19-year-old physically has the tools to be a defensive/rebounding force and take pressure off Lopez, but it will take time and reps in real games for him to learn the “little things” that vets like Humphries already know.
“(Favors) has given us a great lift off the bench,” point guard Devin Harris said in an NBA TV interview earlier this season. “Not so much running a lot of plays for him, but doing a lot of little things: offensive rebounds, loose balls, blocking shots. That’s the things we need him to do to kind of work himself into the game.”
Favors isn’t in the doghouse by any stretch. When he is on the court he’s rebounded well and makes up for not knowing the whole playbook by hustling and not being careless with the basketball. He’s just not getting as much time as you’d expect from a Top-3 pick. In that sense, he could find himself in a situation similar to Thabeet (No. 2 pick, 2009 Draft) last year, when the Memphis Grizzlies unexpectedly had a chance at making the playoffs and didn’t have time to let the rookie learn on the job.
“Somewhere around the halfway point of the season or maybe if it’s sooner, if something really comes along faster, then we’ll take a look at maybe starting (Favors) or growing his minutes,” Avery Johnson told NBA.com. “But right now we really like where he is.”
When I interviewed him before the season, Favors said all the right things about doing whatever his coach asks and just being an eager, patient pupil early in his career. Hopefully he sticks to that positive attitude, because as long as the Nets are within striking distance of a playoff spot — they’re currently in 9th place in the East — he may see even more of his minutes wind up on Humphries’ stat sheet.